Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Plot Goggles: The Best Tool I Acquired at Taos Toolbox
At a workshop like Taos Toolbox, so much happens that you could never relay completely just what you've learned. In truth, I don't know if you can fully comprehend all that you have learned for at least six months to a year, and even then you may not have the whole picture. Learning is like that. Things take time to seep into your brain. But there are always some immediate takeaways. As I've mentioned previously, I went to the Toolbox with the distinct intent of mastering plot. While learning Plot Breaking, a Hollywood technique for hashing out major plot points, was probably the most practical thing I learned, there was a more conceptual point of realization that I think is going to help me as I move forward on this writing journey. It's not a new concept, not even to me, but sometimes you have to see things multiple times and then see it from a different angle to fully understand. It's this. For a story to be emotionally satisfying, you have to make a big promise* in the beginning and then deliver an ending that is unique, but appropriate to the characters and situation involved. Oh, and the stuff that happens in the middle needs to be interesting and/or entertaining. Sounds simple and obvious, right? That doesn't mean it's easy to do. How many movies have you seen that you've enjoyed, up until the end where it fizzles or lets you down in some other way? Same with books. And it's frustrating because you want to love it; instead, it leaves you wanting. And sometimes it's not just the ending. Sometimes the story goes wrong much sooner. Take, for example, the movie Pacific Rim. If you love the movie, great, no offense meant here, but for me it didn't work. The prologue where the main character's brother is killed is interesting and moving and makes it look like this monster movie is going to have a little more depth than your standard monster action flick. After that, they deliver an illogical premise filled with contrived character arcs and a few ridiculous characters doing stupid things. It's not that I can't hang with this kind of movie, but the beginning promised me something else, so I was disappointed in what they actually delivered. A better monster picture, in my opinion, is Megashark vs. Giant Octopus. The title lets you know this is going to be an absurd monster picture - so get your popcorn and be prepared to razz the movie all the way through because it's not taking itself seriously. Megashark delivers exactly what it promises, and hilarity ensues. A great book that lost me, a little bit, at the end, was The Martian by Andy Weir. I highly recommend it, but the denouement (the capper at the end) felt slight. I wanted more emotional resolution so that I could cheer bigger and love this book. Instead, I have to say that I really, really like it – with this one little reservation. As I look back at some of my older stories, I can see where I failed to deliver an emotionally satisfying story arc. Either the promise wasn't big enough, or the challenges not great enough or the end didn't fulfill the promise of the beginning. Going forward, I will be much more conscious of this. The best tool that I acquired in Taos was a pair of plot goggles that allow me to see story more clearly. I'm sure other attendees of Taos Toolbox acquired different tools, but this is what I am most grateful for. *NOTE: When I talk about a big promise, I don't mean that you're characters have to be saving the world, but the stakes need to be high – for them.